Back in 1961 the International Council for Bird Preservation (now BirdLife International) were tasked with choosing Britain’s national bird. They chose the robin, whose tameness they said is a tribute to the British character. It does appear to have earned its tameness title, at least in town and city gardens, where robins will follow the gardener as he turns over the ground and even eat mealworms from the hand. Countryside robins are more wary – and in continental Europe where people still trap these birds to eat or cage them, they are shy and retiring.

There are estimated to be about 4 million breeding pairs of robins in the UK and they are not in danger. Like most small birds, their numbers can drop severely in a cold winter, but they recover quite quickly in a good breeding season.

From the same group of birds as blackbirds and thrushes (Turdus), so they have the same leg and beak construction. They are ground feeders. Both sexes have olive-brown above, with orange-red breast, throat and forehead and a whitish belly.

However friendly robins are with people, the defence of his own territory is a male robin’s life. The reason for the plantive warbling song which it sings all year long, with brief pauses in between, allows rival cock robins to get in their songs to establish the local pattern of robin territories and also assists the hen birds in determining which male they prefer for mating.

Once the female has chosen her preferred male and has been accepted into the territory, nest building and breeding begin in early March. The female builds the nest and it is usually hidden amongst thick ivy on trees or walls or in undergrowth on banks. It is an open nest with an outer of small twigs and grasses and lined with soft feathers and mosses – ike a small version of the blackbird’s nest. Occasionally the nest is built in an unlikely place such as a garden shed or even under a car bonnet. The female lays a clutch

of five or six eggs, white with red-brown spots or blotches. Incubation is 13 to 16 days, by the female only. The male spends his time aggressively defending his territory. Young are fed by both parents and leave the nest after 12 to 14 days. There are usually two broods per year, but a new nest is built for the second brood and often not by the same female. The first female is probably still feeding the first brood.

The robin diet is mostly fruit and seeds, insects, larvae, and earthworms. Robins will feed from bird tables in the winter. Most male robins stay in their territory through the winter and some females establish territories of their own. A small number of northern robins move south in search of warmer places and some females go as far as the continent. On average robins only live for two years, but if they survive their first year, and only 40 per cent do, then they might manage three breeding seasons.

Peter Land